Mythbusters: What Does It Take to “Get There”

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Only 80 percent of you need to read this article if your child is thinking about taking up tennis.

Ten percent of your children have won the genetic lottery. Congratulations! You can do less than the rest of us to achieve the goals I outline below. Your child stepped onto the soccer field at five-years-old and scored goals at will.

Ten percent of your children were just not made for tennis. It doesn’t mean they cannot play and enjoy it. It just means that they will have to do more than I am outlining below to reach their goals. And the last two goals will probably be out of reach.

The middle 80 percent I am talking to are the middle 80 percent athletically.

This is the 80 percent whom I truly believe will use dedication, hard-work, discipline, interest, parental involvement/leadership, mental toughness and good coaching to reach their potential as a tennis player. I truly believe that a child’s success in tennis among the middle 80 percent is solely determined by how badly they want it, the parents want it for the child, how much the child enjoys competing in tennis and good team leadership. The most dedicated of that 80 percent group will often surpass the top 10 percent who put in less effort.

What does it take to make your high school varsity team?
This depends of course on the level of your high school team. If your team is in Division I, generally, if you have been playing once or twice a week consistently since you were young, you can make the team. If your team is Division II or III, you can make it if you have taken lessons on-and-off since you were young. Divisions IV and V don’t require lessons to make the team.

What does it take to help you get into a small Division III college you otherwise wouldn’t get into?
Some small Division III schools are looking for any of their students to play for them. To have tennis help you get into one of these schools, it is necessary to play some tournaments while you are a junior in high school and to have played two or three days a week for a few years. Saying on a college application that the extent of your junior tennis career was playing high school tennis won’t help much here.

What does it take to play for a Division I school or a strong Division II school? What can be done to help with admissions?
This is a huge jump both in terms of commitment and in financial status, from the previous level. Generally, tennis will have to be the biggest commitment outside of schoolwork in a child’s life, and often in the family’s life as well. More days consist of playing tennis than days not playing tennis. At least half of your weekends will be spent playing tournaments, and parents need to be willing to spend many Friday and Saturday nights in the lobby of a tennis club. There will be some national travel as well. This can be costly, but a lot of fun. This is probably the category where families spend the most money. If this seems strange, I’ll explain why in the next category.

What does it take to get a tennis scholarship or get into an Ivy League school because of tennis?
Players at this level have pretty much been playing five or six days a week consistently for a long-time. Tennis is the main priority of the family … certainly during the high school years. Travelling five to 10 times a year for national tournaments is to be expected, and the child needs to enjoy the life of competing in tournaments. Players at this level genuinely crave the next tournament and the tournament start date cannot come soon enough. In recent years, players at this level will often get free groups from clubs and privates are often offered for a heavily discounted rate so that the child can get enough training and that the club and pro can “sell” a junior player at this level to other kids. Players in the middle 80 percent athletically can definitely hit this level.

What does it take to be a top-100 pro?
Talent is definitely necessary. So is accepting and embracing the belief that “Hard work won’t guarantee you anything, but without it, you will never stand a chance.” In this day and age of specialization, I believe that both the child and family need to know by the age of 10 that they want to make a go of it and literally put tennis ahead of everything else. Home schooling is pretty much a pre-requisite now, as is spending 10,000 purposeful hours on the court to achieve true mastery. This isn’t going to happen without a big parental push as well. Both the child and the parent need to share the common goal of the child to be number one in the world one day. I imagine everyone that is top-100 in the world today had the dream and ambition to be number one in the world someday.

The best way to reach the level that you are striving for is to have a coach who has coached people at the level or reached that level as a player!